I started a book club. I started a book club! It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while, as have a few friends of mine, so we rounded up a gang of readers (including some from this blogspace!) and last week we met for our first book club session. I went the bossy route and picked our first book very undemocratically and told people what to read.
I’d first read The Stone Diaries years ago and upon “discovering” Carol Shields, I promptly made my way through the rest of her novels, and was moved – in a sort of melancholy way – by how beautifully and clearly she wrote about ordinary women, for lack of a better term. (Ordinary meaning not noteworthy in the historical sense, not that we aren’t all special snowflakes with our own unique fingerprints, etc)
I wanted to begin book club with The Stone Diaries because I’ve been haunted by the notion of an invisible life ever since first reading the book, and it seemed like good fodder for discussion. Daisy Stone is born at the beginning of the novel, dies at the end (not too much of a spoiler for those who haven’t read it; the book is the autobiography of a fictional character so birth and death stand to reason) and lives a fairly ordinary life in between those two events. Others who have read the book can disagree or chime in with alternate points of view but my biggest takeaway from the book was how little of one’s life is ever known, chronicled, celebrated. I like to think that everyone has a story, but discovering that story in oneself is a lifelong pursuit; discovering it in someone else seems like a damn miracle. Documenting that story is where things get interesting: what do we leave behind, what impressions are left, what remains?
It was hard for me not to think about Daisy and wonder how she would have fared in the era of blogs. Daisy herself was largely passive and made few calculated efforts to alter the course of her life, so I’m not sure she would been inclined to blog, but to me she represents so many women who spent an entire lifetime raising children and tending to a home, without any historical record of their lives. I guess that’s sort of what I see as the main benefit of blogging – to bear witness. I’m not a mom, definitely not a mommyblogger, but I get it. I can see how comforting it might be to a mother to reach out and connect with other parents, and I also can see how it might offer validation for all the unseen work that goes into parenting. It’s easy to think from the tedium or stress of an office job that working at home – as a parent, as a freelancer, as an artist – would be ideal, but I assume there must be some tree-in-the-forest fears that go along with it. If nobody sees what I do, does it count?
On one of our first dates D. asked me the following question: If you were given $50,000 for every week that you stayed inside your apartment – not leaving at all, although deliveries were permitted, as was cable and internet service – how long would you last? I paused for a moment and calculated the hypothetical windfall before answering, “Two weeks.” It should be noted that at the time, I was living in a 350 square foot studio apartment. D. smirked and told me he could easily last six months, and would probably make it closer to a year. He, at the time, was living in a 800 square foot apartment. With a backyard.
Last week D. – from the floor of our dark, small living room which he has taken to calling “his jail” – said to me, “You know my question about $50,000 for every week you spend in your apartment? I’m changing my answer.” I asked him if this bout with unemployment has given him a greater appreciation for stay at home mothers and women over the years who always “just” stayed home. Yes, he said, for sure. It’s not easy being invisible.
People have written for ever and ever. I was never a paper-journal-er and never felt comfortable with a diary until I realized you could write your diary entries on the internet and people might read them, and those same people might write back to you, and suddenly journaling seemed a lot more interesting to me. Blogs have shifted into such a topical and sophisticated medium that I don’t consider myself a blogger. I don’t even want to be one. (Although the New York Times tells me that Dooce has a house with six bedrooms. Six bedrooms! I don’t want six bedrooms but reading that made me wish I had possibly tried a little harder as a blogger.) What I like about writing online is that I’ve made connections and left my handprint, however faint, in this drying online cement.
I’m not sure that Daisy ever got a chance to leave her mark. She had children, and they had children, and they had children, but Daisy herself never got to build a monument to her own life. I am not at peace! are her last (unspoken) words, and I take from that disappointment and regret that she never made her own mark, never was able to say, I WAS HERE.
So, book club: It is happening! One of the fun(ny) things about meeting in person was counting the different versions of the book read by different book clubbers. We had Kindle and iPad readers, library books, borrowed books, editions of the book with “family” photos and books with a foreward but no pictures. Also we had chocolate and wine and sandwiches and tea that smelled like apple muffins. Next we are reading Room, which I assume the rest of you all read six months ago and which Amazon has been telling me to read for just as long so FINE, WORLD, I will read Room.